The US has an education problem

It may have taken congressional hearings, but America is now waking up to the detrimental consequences of our society’s unchecked use of technology, particularly among our youth. From the Facebook Papers to the ongoing Elizabeth Holmes prosecution, we are seeing a strong reminder that there is a prevalent bias in the internet sector for flashy marketing above genuine outcomes. However, why are we still so trusting of Important Tech when it comes to fixing big problems, such as healthcare and education?

I have experienced personally the harm of putting showy claims above real, measured effect and failing to engage existing expertise as I have gone from corporate America to the digital business to my present work leading advocacy efforts supporting racial justice in the education area. I am also fully aware that our educational system, particularly in the STEM professions, must be reimagined in order to adequately educating our future generation for the world they will inherit. Nevertheless, I am not convinced that the IT industry should be the driving force behind this initiative. Are you in favor of it? Yes.

Major tech businesses have a natural talent-building goal to promote tech education, given the seemingly exponential demand for persons who can fill skilled computer positions. 

This has led to high-profile efforts to bring coding and computer science education to K-12 students, ranging from Tim Cook pressuring the White House to make coding mandatory in school curricula to early investors in Facebook and Dropbox founding Code.org to bring computer science into public schools. Over 100 million kids have participated in the Hour of Code over the last ten years, and over 70% of parents now believe it is necessary for their children to pursue computer science.

However, we must be wary of treating a compelling vision as if it were an accomplishment in and of itself, such as awarding Elizabeth Holmes with major investment amounts while wearing a Steve Jobs turtleneck and accepting acclaim for promises that have yet to fulfill.

Currently, some of the world’s brightest digital brains are supporting “innovative” attempts to increase access to technology education. Despite this, the people who stand to gain the most from new avenues to opportunity still left behind. Women’s computer science (CS) students in the United States have decreased from 20.7 percent to 18.7 percent during 2009, while African-American CS undergraduates have decreased by 3%.

Short-term educational initiatives, such as orgs establishing free online coding lessons, mentoring event series, or global hackathons, have shown to be particularly effective in attracting private-sector attention and donor contributions through eye-catching branding.

However, while I am sure I would have loved these interactions as a young student enthused about STEM, I am not sure they would have sustained my path from initial interest to a master’s degree in mechanical engineering at one of the country’s top schools.

To achieve that goal, I needed realistic and approachable professors and experts that believed in my abilities. It was having a group of friends who could calm me during difficult times and affirm my frustrations while I constantly judged others is primarily white environments. Then, at the very least, I was required access to a continuing and challenging STEM education as well as the technological resources necessary to accomplish assignments.

Breaks in the digital pipeline for communities of color are not limited to laptop access or the availability of AP computer science classes. Disjointed initiatives, especially when performed at scale, are essentially Band-Aids when gaps arise in secondary education, college admissions, and employment processes in tech’s top businesses.

If the present examination of social media companies teaches us anything, it is that technology does not eliminate cultural divides or societal issues; rather, it exacerbates them. To make a significant commitment in strengthening our educational system, the tech industry must learn from this experience and attempt to understand not only what is missing, but also how to assist the present efforts.